James to Enter Songwriters Hall of Fame

Brett James
Brett James

After more than two decades of songwriting success, including No. 1 hits for artists Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride, Brett James, B.S. ’91, was among 12 members of the 2020 Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee class. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 class will be enshrined with the 2021 class later this year.

James’ work is familiar even if his name is not. He wrote or co-wrote numerous hits, including Jesus, Take the Wheel (Underwood), Blessed (McBride), Who I Am (Jessica Andrews), It’s America (Rodney Atkins) and The Truth (Jason Aldean). Outside of country music, James’ songs were recorded by diverse performers such as Chicago, the Backstreet Boys, Bon Jovi and Kelly Clarkson.

All told, James — who might be better remembered by his Baylor classmates as Brett James Cornelius — has written 25 No. 1 hits and earned a Grammy and three CMA Triple Play Awards. He was also twice named ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year.

The road to success began when James was a Baylor student  when his parents gave him a $90 pawn shop guitar for Christmas.

“As soon as I learned three chords, I just thought it’d be fun to write a song with ’em,” James told The Oklahoman. “I just kind of did it for fun, and I certainly never dreamed it would be a job.”

After graduating from Baylor, he attended the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine but dropped out to pursue a recording career. When that didn’t work out, he returned to medical school — which is where he was when Faith Hill and others began recording some of his work. After a year of double-duty, James left medical school a second time to focus on songwriting.

“I’m a very proud Baylor graduate,” he told The Lariat in 1995 at the beginning of his career. “I tell everyone about it. For me, Baylor was the perfect school.”